I met the Israeli settlers Biden placed sanctions on. They’re bad – but part of a rotten system

I saw settlers attack Palestinian shepherds with dogs, destroy their crops, and steal their homes – all under the aegis of rightwing Israeli leaders

By Zak Witus
Mar 4, 2024

This month, the US, British and French governments placed sanctions on more than 30 Israeli settlers for acts of violence and incitement against Palestinians living in the occupied West Bank. It was a historic move. Israeli and international human rights organizations have protested the lack of accountability for settler violence for years. Now these settlers, with documented histories of arson, theft, physical assault and destruction of property, will have their assets frozen, travel abroad restricted, and ability to do business constrained.

These sanctions materially disrupt the machinery of settler violence and send perhaps the strongest signal yet to the Israeli government that it must curb attacks on Palestinian communities, because there will be consequences. But sanctions on just a few settlers won’t solve the fundamental problem; these are not just a few bad apples. Sustained settler assaults on Palestinian lives and livelihood are part of systematic, longstanding Israeli government policy to push Palestinians off this land to expand settlements. It’s the bad policy that produces the bad apples.

I have personally encountered some of these individuals. In 2022, I volunteered for three months as a human rights observer in Masafer Yatta, a rural area of the West Bank where Palestinian residents rely largely on shepherding and agriculture to earn a living. I confronted two of the settlers in question, Yinon Levi and Ely Federman, on a near weekly basis, and watched as they attacked Palestinians – unprovoked – with my own eyes.

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Around the village of Zanuta, I witnessed Levi, Federman and their accomplices repeatedly attack Palestinian shepherds and their flocks with dogs and aerial drones. They would try to scare them into leaving their land, and then graze their own sheep and goats on the Palestinians’ crops. In the village of Susiya, I filmed Levi and others illegally building a road to a settlement outpost on private Palestinian land. Another video shows Levi operating a bulldozer, shoveling huge piles of dirt on to a road in order to block the only entrance and exit to the village.

Fellow activists have also filmed Federman setting his German shepherd on a Palestinian resident of the area, biting his arm and abdomen, while other settlers pointed guns at Palestinian onlookers. (Federman’s dog has been documented repeatedly attacking other Palestinian residents.)

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